In attendance for the Accountability Lab at this year’s International Anti-Corruption Conference, I was struck by the level of innovation present among the attendees. In times gone by, thinking of the word ‘innovation’ conjured images of grey-haired scientists, strenuously working in complex laboratories with huge administrative support. Today we think more about dynamic and colourful visions of youth – and for me, this vision came to life as I sat amongst youth groups in a joint brainstorming session at the IACC. The ability to cross-pollinate ideas to develop and finalize their respective anti-corruption and good governance projects, epitomized this year’s discussions.
A room dedicated to the ‘Tech Hub’ was full of the chatter among tech innovators through the three day meeting. These individuals had a passion to facilitate change, especially in terms of the relations between citizens and their respective governments. Such innovations seek to make the governments more responsive, participatory, efficient, and transparent; and consequently, accountable to the population they represent. The best thing about these projects was that, rather than being led by a donor-driven agenda, they were based on design thinking and motivated by, and based upon, community needs.
Such innovations seek to make the governments accountable to the population they represent
For many, the focus was on manifestations of corruption and ways to curb it in differing contexts. I was particularly thrilled to see the ‘physical outputs’ of this gathering in the shape of the projects that participants of the Tech Hub produced. They were not only developed from a realist perspective – with implementation in mind – but also reflected the rapid socio-political changes that require tools to be flexible and adaptable over time.
For example, Aradhya Malhotra of Skyless Game Studio – a tech innovator from Philadelphia – was developing a project that combined related learning with computer gameplay. The game took key elements of governance and accountability and required the user to complete various levels. Themes included finding answers from data sets, tracking politicians’ involvement in various procurement affairs and educating players on the benefits of citizen journalism. At the IACC, Aradhya was hoping to refine his prototype and clearly believed that the game could change the way individuals learn about their civic responsibilities. For children and youngsters, it may facilitate a better understanding of their basic rights, yielding greater engagements with the state and government institutions.
Arad Malhotra talks about Follow the Money, a video game that teaches investigating financial crimes and recovering assets from IACC Young Journalists on Vimeo.
Lesedi Bewlay, a tech innovator from South Africa, was at the Tech Hub to refine his Municipality Compliance Tracker. The basic idea behind this tool was to track procurement compliance in public municipalities. The tool provides district and provincial scoring comparisons, and rankings could be improved if more data was available to the public. Hotlines serve to facilitate information dissemination.
Khairil is trying to introduce a tool that could track the history of government contracting firms
Khairil Yusof, an innovator associated with the Sinar Project, was working on a development that monitored offshore companies and their actions. The close relationship between politicians and public officials in the creation of such companies, in unison with the vast sums of money sometimes siphoned off through abuses of power and opaque, underhand actions, needs urgent attention. Khairil is trying to introduce a tool that could track the history of government contracting firms: their past records, previous projects accomplished and what reasoning, if any, they qualified for large tenders issued by the government. If there was some degree of regularity, there may be a greater element of trust by the population that projects would be completed on time, to a high specification thus boosting national infrastructure.
Working on a similar venture, Cosmin Nitu of Tech Agenda focused on sustainable access to and provision of public data. Too often, governments keep datasets and related websites offline, detailing excessive expense as a prime reason for doing so. Through her endeavour, Cosmin is trying to track down all such websites and datasets that have been taken offline, thereafter reprinting them on a dedicated platform for ease of public access. Indeed, the group of tech experts designing tools of utility for their respective communities in the Hub was, overall, an impressive reflection on the unison between technology and accountability.
At the IACC I also had a chance to learn more about the findings of the Global Opening Government Survey. The survey explained how proactive the youth movement is in demanding government’s actions are transparent and efficient. According to the survey, “an overwhelming percent of young people aged 18-25 years old in the 62 countries surveyed want their governments to be more open.” This reflects the passion felt for proactive anti-corruption and pro-accountability initiatives, especially given the fact that youth are the ones who have most to lose by inheriting corrupt, faltering systems.
Given the growth and number of tech innovators across developing countries looking at accountability and transparency issues, I left the IACC full of hope for the future. The shift to transparent, responsive forms of government can be achieved by the unified efforts of the kind of passionate individuals I met in Putrajaya. Young people are pushing for change- now let’s see governments respond pro-actively to their efforts.